Inside Iran’s Negotiating Strategy

If Mida got a hold of Iran’s secret negotiating playbook, this is what it would look like.

The Iranian negotiators in Lausanne have been working from a carefully written playbook that is being updated as they go along · If a portion of it were leaked, this is what it might look like.

Americans see as "authentic" and "exotic" Easterners due slavish deference. Orientalist painting of Syria. Wikimedia
Americans see as “authentic” and “exotic” Easterners due slavish deference. Orientalist painting of Syria. Wikimedia

[Tehran, Office of the Chief Negotiator, 2015]

Introduction: Understanding the Americans

Americans are by nature a trusting and gullible people.  They want to do good, and they believe in their own ability to smooth over issues and come to an agreement.  Over the years the American political sphere has been bifurcated between politicians who have their roots in local society and functionaries who mostly studied political science or even conflict resolution in university.  Although competent and intelligent these American bureaucrats speak in a form of flowery nonsense in public.  In private they are sheep-like and want to help “the other.”

For us, this is good news.  We are the classic “other”: a “dark” and “Middle Eastern” society that caters to their stereotypes about the “wily east.”  We have enigmas and “deep culture” and “traditions.”  Americans are apt to believe us at our word just as much as they are willing to excuse our outbursts as “appeasing the conservative elements.”

In their mind, Iranians are poets and mystics.  Things like “tea ceremonies” and our need to “take a break for prayer” make us seem ancient and interesting.  They will do everything to cater to our religious needs; they will remove shoes if they think it offends us. Every such gesture puts the ball in our court.

In addition, Americans have a natural tendency to believe in the decency of people, so they believe everything that happens in Iran is due to “conservative forces” and that we, the negotiators, are “moderates.” It is important to cater to this American conception of us as the “good cop” and that we have to “convince the reactionaries.”  Little things like “I believe in change” and “we want a modern Iran” make them believe in us.  Referencing our Western education and pretending we know their local sports team will also make them think we are trustworthy and naturally have good intentions.

Americans believe that all people are sort of honorary Americans and that their values of freedom and democracy can be put in place everywhere.  Thus the only thing keeping us from being good liberal Americans is our nationality.  This creates an irony.  The more nationalist and religious we appear to be, the more “authentic” we are, and at the same time, we get points for being an “exotic other” and inside they look and treat us as equals and as people who “could be from Boston but for the fact that we were born in Tehran.”

Reagan considered them equivalent to the Founding Fathers. Afghan  Mujahideen. Wikimedia
Reagan considered them equivalent to the Founding Fathers. Afghan Mujahideen. Wikimedia

Americans are fascinating in this way.  During the war in Afghanistan they actually convinced themselves that Afghans were fighting for freedom and were “just like us.”  They loved and worshipped the Mujahideen.  Then later with Saudi Arabia in 1991 they really thought the Saudis were similar to Americans.  They found beauty in the “desert piety” of the Saudis and imagined them as the most wonderful and honest people.  It doesn’t matter if a Saudi prince has 45 super-sports-cars and beats his servants, that he is buried in an unmarked grave makes Americans “ooh and ah” at his “modesty.”

We have to also play on the American guilty feelings over their support for the Shah.  Americans are by nature of the feeling that they are at fault for most of the world’s problems.  This is an incredible arrogance, because they truly believe that they influence affairs all over the world.  Despite knowing the utter incompetence of their own CIA, they also think the CIA “propped up the Shah.”  So we have to constantly reference this and mention Mohammad Mossedegh and the coup.  Make them feel like they must pay the price and help us now, because of the years we suffered under the Shah.

Americans have a short memory, so they don’t thirst for revenge over our taking their hostages or our support for the bombers who targeted their embassy and marine barracks in Lebanon.  Indeed, in most cases they think it is their own fault.  There is no reason to disabuse them of these views.  Americans are at fault, they offended us, and they ruined our country; this plays to their inner desire to “set things right” in the Middle East.  Helping our ambitions can be part of that.  Play to their “savior complex” and their weird Christian overtones of “turning the other cheek.”

American bureaucrats tend to like complex language that is totally meaningless.  They will talk about “sustainability” and “goals” and “mutual assurances.”  It is best to play along.  Smile and agree.  They like agreement.  But then when we must disagree, blame it all on the “Ayatollahs” and the ‘religious fanatics.”  They need to think we are on the same side, and if only we can “bring some success back” then we can “show we are making progress.”   The narrative of “oh, please, let us have something to show for this” will make them feel that our fate is in their hands.  And if they say “no”, then they will only get “more conservative elements.”

Americans are forever atoning for their ties to the Shah. The suckers. Wikimedia
Americans are forever atoning for their ties to the Shah. The suckers. Wikimedia

Part 1: Negotiating tactics

Read the American media and play to whatever is trending there.  For instance they have convinced themselves that the only option to a deal is war and they don’t want war.  So we need to play that up.  “Without a deal, there will be conflict.”

It is important to stress the concept of “peace.”  Americans are inveterate believers in peace.  If we look to their history we see that Woodrow Wilson entered the First World War to bring democracy and peace.  Even Richard Nixon, who was a warmonger, won the election in 1968 with a “secret plan to end the war.”  Year after year, US administrations come up with “peace plans” for the Palestine conflict.  So we must play to this concept that without a “deal” then there will be “war.”

US President Barack Obama is coming to the end of his presidency which means he wants something to show for it.  He has actively tried to “reset” relations with Russia and has opened up to Cuba.  In each case the Americans have gained nothing by opening up to these traditional enemies and their enemies have gained.  We are seen in a similar manner.

Obama has an unrealistic belief in his ability to change things and that past policies are the result of the failures of US administrations.  Thus, the issue with us is that Obama desires a deal, any deal.  We can achieve many concessions because his team has been ordered to come away with something to show for all this investment.  They don’t understand the concept of “sunk costs” so we can play to this concept that they have invested so much in something.

The Americans must feel they have “won” something in the negotiations.  The fact is that anything we get in a reduction in sanctions is a win for us.  Americans like the concept of “rights”, which they have enshrined in their constitution.  So if we negate our right to develop nuclear weapons, just like the Americans have stockpiled and which their ally the Zionists have, then we must receive something in return.  Thus if we begin negotiations demanding our right to nuclear weapons and appear to stop down from that demand then they will think they have pressured us, when in fact they have not.

We can use the rift between him and Obama. Binyamin Netanyahu. Photo: Miriam Alster/Flash90
We can use the rift between him and Obama. Binyamin Netanyahu. Photo: Miriam Alster/Flash90

Part 2 Expanding our influence through negotiations

The closest US allies in the region, the Zionists and Saudi Arabia, abhor our national goals.  The key to the negotiations is to enable us to expand our influence in the region, while at the same time becoming a nuclear threshold state and embarking on a path to nuclear energy which will make us a regional power of unparalleled stature.

The Zionist leader Benjamin Netanyahu has been acting irrationally in responding to our pursuit of nuclear technology.  Previous president Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s statements harmed our policy goals because it made us seem irrational. But in the long term he was good for us because now our current leaders appear moderate and “someone Americans can do business with.”  Netanyahu’s brazen speech to Congress has harmed already strained relations with the US State Department and President.

The brilliant situation we find ourselves in is that Zionist-US relations are weak, and we can encourage this wedge between the Americans and Tel Aviv.  We should encourage the Americans to think the Zionists are sabotaging the negotiations and that while we are working in good faith “with” the Americans, Netanyahu is working “against” the Americans.

Keep them guessing

Americans think that Iran is an opaque, complex traditional country with different competing elites and different power centers.  The center of that complex power struggle is often portrayed as our supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.  They are so gullible as to believe he actually “tweets” on social media and they listen to his every statement.

When we have concluded negotiations the Supreme leader must announce some sort of complicated non-committal statement.  It cannot be outright condemnation.  The idea is to make the Americans think we face “tough negotiations” back home to “convince the hard liners.”

Every utterance in Iran against the deal can be portrayed two ways.  First of all it is “appeasing the people.”  Americans have an Orientalist view of Middle Easterners as hot-blooded irrational savages, whose passions must be satiated at all times.  They believe that whereas our western educated negotiators are “like Americans”, but the people of Iran demand “dignity” and “honor.”  Thus we can burn as many American flags as we want and we can be seen to celebrate a deal that we pretend was “difficult for us” and each step of the way the Americans will feel sorry for us negotiators.

The silly Americans actually think that he tweets - and that we're the "moderates" holding him up. Screencap of Tweets from Ayatollah Khamenei's account
The silly Americans actually think that he tweets – and that we’re the “moderates” holding him up. Screencap of Tweets from Ayatollah Khamenei’s account.

Once a deal is almost done, throwing in a few extra demands is a classic tactic.  Americans won’t understand it that way; they are fully sold on the fact that the “clerics in Tehran” are irrational conservative extremists.  So we must play that up.  We will keep the Americans guessing up until the June deadline, and each step of the way throw up new roadblocks to the deal until the last moment.  The Americans, so invested in this and not wanting their leader to appear a failure, will eventually cave to our demands.

Even if they don’t give in to our demands, it doesn’t matter.  We have already created a chink in the armor of sanctions, and eventually states such as Russia and China will trade with us anyway.  Russia has already announced that it wants to provide us with the S-300 system, for instance.  The idea is to weaken the Americans.  By negotiating as equals with them, we have already shown the world that the US is a paper tiger.  Its influence is on the wane.

Part 3 The European angle

The European states have for years attempted to patch up relations with us.  They are on our side for the most part.  We can play them off against the Americans.  In the case where France seemed to be suspicious of our intentions, we can portray them as a “problem” in the negotiations and use the Americans to pressure them.  In the end of the day, having so many European states involved helps us.  They are not united against us, but rather divided and eventually they will all accept our demands.

Europeans tend to value agreements and signing ceremonies.  They like paperwork and empty declarations.  For them it is about having an agreement, not actually carrying it out.  It is similar to the UN.  A country with the worst human rights record can chair the committee on human rights.  Countries where women have the least rights invariably run the committee for women’s rights.  That is mostly a European invention, where the name of a committee means more than who is running it.  So Iran is automatically perceived as constructive, moderate and correct, so long as our declarations seem positive and cater to the EU manifesto of using key words like “constructive dialogue.”

Formality beats substance for Europeans. We can use this. Minsk II summit. Wikimedia
Formality beats substance for Europeans. We can use this. Minsk II summit. Wikimedia

Conclusion: Long term victory

The Iranian revolution is based on a long term agenda.   The EU and US are naturally short term thinking states.  The Obama administration will be out of power soon, so they can leave the next democratically elected administration a deal that only matter on paper.  The EU has no real interest in the Middle East besides declarative statements.

In both cases, every day of negotiations we will continue to build our way to nuclear energy and weaponized independence.  With or without a reduction in sanctions we will achieve our goal.  The goal of our negotiating team is to buy us time, cause as much chaos for the Americans and their allies as possible and to bring back any reduction in sanctions that can be done.  For us it is a win-win situation.  Ironically, the Americans think it is a win-win situation.  History has provided us with this providential opportunity.  Take advantage of it.

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